Are you an established business that’s tempted to follow the hype and start promoting yourself on social media? Are you a start-up that’s looking to generate some buzz and get your name out there using social media?
Undoubtedly social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, are great forums to promote all kinds of businesses. You can research your target market, build your brand name, meet potential customers and connect with like-minded people.
But there are risks too. Here are some of the legal aspects of building your business through social media channels.
You still need to comply with Australian Consumer Law
Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that because they are using an overseas platform – such as marketing through Facebook or selling online through Etsy – they need only comply with the Terms & Conditions of those platforms. Wrong.
If you are selling to Australian consumers you still need to comply with Australian laws and regulations around advertising, privacy, competition and consumer law. In addition, you are bound by any industry-based codes and standards that you may be a member of, for example, financial services or medical advice.
And if you breach any of these laws or regulations, you can find yourself with an unexpected fine or without a business at all.
In 2012, lingerie company Bendon ran a promotional campaign encouraging girls to post “selfies” of them and their best friends in Bendon lingerie on Facebook to win prizes. Several complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), which found that the campaign was a breach of the Australian Advertising Code of Ethics. The campaign was closed within 3 days of the ruling.
Social media Terms & Conditions protect them, not you
Ever read the Terms & Conditions fine print on Facebook or Twitter? Do you understand the contract you signed up to when you created an account with Etsy or Big Commerce? Probably not.
The Terms & Conditions drafted by social media websites are designed to protect them and not you. Many companies doing business via social media are shocked to discover that when they created their social media accounts, they indemnified the websites for any claims, litigation or issues arising from content posted on their account – even if they did not put it there themselves.
While there is very little you can do to negotiate for different Terms & Conditions, it is still important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities in relation to your business’ social media account.
You need to own your business information
Did you know that Facebook owns your customer list? Whilst Facebook is a great platform to start your business and access a large customer base, you do not actually own any customer list you have built up there. The same goes for YouTube and Twitter.
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter can unilaterally close your page, channel or profile at any time, without notice, and cause you to lose your business overnight. There is no requirement that they give you a valid reason for their action.
For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you set up your own business website as soon as you have the resources to do so. And start building your own prospect and customer database of email addresses, etc. that you own and control. This is a valuable business asset and shouldn’t be overlooked.
And avoid defamation problems at all costs
You are responsible for all content posted on your social media accounts and website – and you can be held legally liable for it.
The only time you can avoid liability, as a publisher of potentially defamatory material, is if you are considered an “innocent disseminator”, that is if you:
- Were not the primary publisher of the defamatory statement
- Did not know, nor ought reasonably to have known, that the statement was defamatory, and
- Were not simply negligent
Recommendations for minimizing your risks on Social Media
There are a number of measures you can take to help mitigate the risks of marketing your business via social media:
- Do not make ‘over-statements’ or any claims on your Facebook page or other social media accounts that you would not make in any other type of advertising.
- Monitor your social media accounts and remove any posts or advertisements that may be false, misleading or deceptive as soon as you become aware of them. This is what the ACCC would expect you to do with all types of advertising, including on social media.
- Do not let others make misleading claims or defamatory comments on your social media account. You are responsible for the content on your page, including the posts and public comments others make.
- Set clear ‘house rules’ or social media policies that apply to your employees, followers, friends or anyone wishing to interact with your business through social media. These rules should be linked to prominently on your social media account.
- And discipline employees and block users who breach those rules.
While social media can be a hugely beneficial and cost-saving way of conducting business, you should stay informed and updated about legal developments in this area and review the way you manage your business or start-up in this potentially risky environment.